May 28, 2021
Your 2021 WNBA sister battles begin… now
Erica McCall, DeWanna Bonner Friday showdown is first of nine WNBA sibling games on the 2021 schedule
Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Paid subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
Friday’s game between the Washington Mystics and the Connecticut Sun marks an early milestone in the WNBA season. Yes, it is a 2019 WNBA Finals rematch, but the ultimate significance of this game is that it is the first matchup of sisters this season. Mystics forward Erica McCall will face older sister and Sun forward/guard DeWanna Bonner for the eighth time in their careers.
Bonner has a 6-1 record in those head-to-head matchups, but McCall has a short memory. “Last year was my first time ever beating her, so I’m hoping to keep the train rolling,” she told The Next in the offseason.
In total, six players have a sister who is also in the WNBA this season, and Bonner and McCall are the only duo who play for different teams. Brionna and Stephanie Jones play with Bonner in Connecticut, while Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike play for the Los Angeles Sparks. That means that nine regular-season games will feature sisters on both sides:
Ahead of the first sister showdown this season, let’s look at how each pair of sisters has performed so far and what their bond is like on and off the court. Unless otherwise stated, all statistics are from Basketball-Reference for games through May 26.
DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun, and Erica McCall, Washington Mystics
Bonner’s 2021 statistics (6 games played): 18.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in 32.8 minutes per game; 53.6 percent shooting from 3-point range
McCall’s 2021 statistics (5 games played): 7.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 22.0 minutes per game; 53.8 percent shooting from the field
Bonner and McCall are exactly eight years apart—they share an Aug. 21 birthday—so they never had the option to play together in college. They haven’t yet played together in the WNBA, and they never even played one-on-one growing up, as they lived in separate households in Alabama (Bonner) and California (McCall). But this past offseason, Bonner joined Atomerőmű KSC Szekszárd in Hungary, the team McCall has played with for the last four years.
“That was our first real basketball interaction with each other, so it was a long, long time in the making,” McCall told reporters on Thursday. “… I absolutely loved it. I was kind of nervous, though, because … she’s an incredible player and so for me to have the opportunity to play with her, I was a little starstruck even though she’s my sister. … But my sister is so down-to-earth and just easy to communicate with, easy to play with, so it came natural.”
Bonner played in four games for KSC Szekszárd and averaged 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists in just over 30 minutes per game, while McCall averaged 22.9 minutes, 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds in 17 games. McCall said Bonner calmed her nerves and pushed her to be a better player, while McCall helped speed up Bonner’s learning curve early on and chauffeured her to and from practice throughout their month together.
Even without being teammates in the WNBA, McCall said that playing in the league like her sister has been “a dream come true.” But at one point, there seemed to be a chance that Bonner and McCall would team up in Connecticut this summer. Bonner is in her second season with the Sun, and McCall was a restricted free agent entering 2021, so the sisters were eyeing Connecticut as a potential landing spot for her before the Mystics ultimately acquired her.
“When [the Mystics deal] happened, [DeWanna] was super excited for me,” McCall told The Next in February. “She was like, ‘Hey, we’re still going to be on the East Coast together. We’re not that far from each other, so we can still come and visit.’”
There may also be a silver lining for McCall of not playing with Bonner in the WNBA: she doesn’t have to change her jersey number. She has always worn Bonner’s #24 because, as she told High Post Hoops in 2019, “I’ve always wanted to be just like her; I still want to be just like her.” (In Hungary, McCall was the more tenured player, so she kept #24 and Bonner wore #25.)
Both number 24s are off to hot starts this WNBA season. Bonner—a three-time All-Star and two-time All-WNBA player—is playing like an MVP candidate for the 5-1 Sun. She ranks ninth in the league in scoring, fifth in 3-point shooting percentage and second in win shares. McCall, meanwhile, is obliterating most of her previous career highs and has started two games for the 2-3 Mystics. She is fourth in the league in rebounding rate (20.1 percent) and ninth in field goal percentage.
The Sun’s fiery start has only raised the stakes for this game, as the Mystics will likely need their best performance of the season to get McCall the win. Based strictly on their statistics, Bonner would seem to have the upper hand if she’s matched up with McCall at power forward—and she also has a slight height advantage at 6’4. But the 6’2 McCall has gotten advice from her dad over the years on how to defend her big sister, and she is confident going into Friday’s game.
“When she gets frustrated, I know what she’s gonna do: she’s gonna put her head down to the rim; she’s gonna try to attack,” McCall said. “… You’re not going to stop her from scoring. You’ve just got to contain her as much as possible, so I’m hoping to get under her skin a little bit, talk a little trash. Hopefully it helps.”
McCall, now in her fifth season in the league, has also noticed her mindset about facing Bonner evolve over the years. “It’s becoming, I guess, a bit more routine,” she said just before the season started. “… At first it was like, Oh my gosh, it’s my sister, it’s so amazing, but now I’m like, I’m trying to get this win. … It’s strictly business. We’ll hug it out afterwards.”
We’ll see on Friday whether that approach pays off for McCall with her second consecutive win against Bonner, or whether Bonner defends home court and her near-perfect record in the family feud.
Brionna and Stephanie Jones, Connecticut Sun
Brionna’s 2021 statistics (6 games played): 13.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 30.5 minutes per game; 52.2 percent shooting from the field
Stephanie’s 2021 statistics (3 games played): 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game; 50.0 percent shooting from the field
“Keeping up with the Joneses” has a whole new meaning in the WNBA this season, as Connecticut is tied for first place in the standings thanks in part to forwards Brionna, Stephanie and Jonquel Jones. (Jonquel is not related to Brionna or Stephanie.) Brionna, who was a candidate for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player last season, is producing at a similar level as she did in 2020, while younger sister Stephanie made a WNBA roster for the first time this season after going undrafted in 2020.
“When I got the call that she was coming to training camp, I was so excited for her,” Brionna said at the Sun’s media day. “Being able to experience that with her, it’s been great for me. I get to help her out, share everything that I’ve learned so far and just be in her ear all the time.”
Stephanie appeared in her first regular-season game on May 14 against Atlanta, scoring four points and grabbing two rebounds in 13 minutes. “It was a dream come true, really, to be able to be on the court in the league,” she said afterward. “… I was just really excited to be out there—and not just be out there, but also be out there with my sister.”
For a model of how she can develop in the WNBA, Stephanie needs to look no further than Brionna, who averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game in her first three seasons but increased that to over 26 per game over the past two seasons. Her scoring average has roughly quadrupled in that span, and she ranked second in the WNBA last season in field goal percentage at 60.5 percent.
“I can see her growth on the floor, especially being on the court now,” Stephanie said. “It’s really awesome to … play with her and really move with her and see it, [and] just to experience it on the court.”
To date, they have shared the court for 10 minutes across two games, to go along with the one season they played together at Maryland. Stephanie said that she learned so much from Brionna in college, ranging from positioning to work ethic to communication. But their games were and remain very different, even though they are just an inch apart in height.
Stephanie is “more of a face-up post; she has a nice touch for her shot,” Brionna said recently. “So I think I definitely play more back-to-the-basket, more, you know, I like the contact in the post. She’s more finesse.”
Those stylistic differences haven’t stopped Sun head coach Curt Miller from pitting the Joneses against one another in practice, though. Brionna said it happened “pretty much every day” in training camp and that it sometimes got “a little scrappy,” much like when the sisters would play in the backyard with their two brothers growing up.
“As soon as we’re on opposite teams, it’s no prisoners,” Brionna said. “… She’s going to come at me just as hard as I’m going to come at her.”
Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks
Chiney’s 2021 statistics (2 games played): 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals in 29.0 minutes per game
Nneka’s 2021 statistics (2 games played): 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 27.5 minutes per game; 54.8 percent shooting from the field
In many respects, Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike are the torchbearers for sisters in the WNBA. While they weren’t the first sisters to play in the league, they were the first to both be drafted No. 1 overall, both win Rookie of the Year and be selected to the same All-Star Game. If that somehow isn’t enough, they are also on the Executive Committee of the players’ union, with Nneka as the WNBPA president and Chiney as one of four vice presidents.
Yet Nneka, the oldest of four Ogwumike sisters who have all played basketball, originally expected to go to medical school rather than play professionally. Chiney is to thank for the change of heart, which came midway through Nneka’s senior year of college. Nneka recalled, “[She] said to me, ‘Hey, you know, you could be a first-round draft pick in the WNBA.’ I replied, ‘I mean, that’s cool, but we have a game tomorrow.’ … But after my sister got the idea of the WNBA in my head, the headlines became more and more difficult to ignore.”
The Ogwumikes played two seasons together at Stanford before being drafted to WNBA teams on opposite sides of the country. Nneka has spent her entire 10-year career with the Los Angeles Sparks, averaging at least 14 points per game in every season and winning a WNBA championship as well as MVP honors in 2016. Chiney, a two-time All-Star, was drafted by Connecticut in 2014 and played there until she requested and received a trade to Los Angeles before the 2019 season.
“The reason I came to LA is to win a championship with my sister,” Chiney said during training camp this year. But because Chiney opted out of the 2020 season due to injury concerns, 2021 is only the Ogwumikes’ second professional season together.
Chiney has reportedly expanded her game during her time away, in between her work as a television broadcaster and the executive producer of “144,” a documentary about the 2020 WNBA season. In her first game back, she doubled her previous career high in 3-pointers made in a game with two.
“I’m really excited for the season because I think this is a growth year for me,” she told Sports Illustrated just before the season started. “Growth requires growing pains, and I guess that’s where I’m at. … At some point if you don’t force your growth, you’re hurting the team.”
Between a revamped roster and players like Chiney expanding their games, the Sparks are experiencing a lot of change, which is reflected in their 0-2 start to the season. “I’m even relearning Chiney because I didn’t play with her last year,” Nneka said after the team’s second loss, which came against the Las Vegas Aces.
As the Ogwumikes vie for a championship and continue to raise the bar for siblings in professional sports, they may also rewrite the narrative around sisterly competition. “The most annoying question would be, ‘Have you guys ever been competitive?’” Chiney said in 2014. “And we’re like, ‘No,’ and then people are shocked about that. They just don’t know how sisters can get so far without being competitive with each other, because that’s the story they want to hear, but that’s just not our story.”
Additional reporting contributed by Jacqueline LeBlanc.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.